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Glenn Beck, FRC Shift Aim From 'Social Justice' to Jim Wallis

Meanwhile, Land and Mohler dismiss broadcaster's earlier comments as "nonsense."
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Political Advocacy Tracker is a roundup of what Christian activist organizations have been talking about over the last week.

"The Hammer is Coming"

Just when the furor over Glenn Beck's social justice comments seemed to be dying down, Beck revealed new information that set off a new chain of debate.

On Monday, Beck revealed that he had been "compiling information" on Wallis for the past two months and would be exposing Wallis' "Marxist" philosophy. Beck said it was Wallis who "picked a fight with me last week," and that he would respond at a time best for Beck, not Wallis. Wallis had previously thanked Beck for backing away from linking "social justice" to Nazis and Marxists and asked to join Beck's program to discuss the meaning of social justice.

"So you go ahead and you continue to do your little protest thing, and that's great. I love it. But just know—the hammer is coming," Beck said. "We've been compiling information on you, your cute little organization, and all the other cute little people that are with you. And when the hammer comes, it's going to be hammering hard and all through the night."

Wallis responded with another open letter to Beck reiterating his request for dialogue.

"Glenn, let us please not resort to threats and attacks," asked Wallis. "Since you were the one to raise this issue and start this whole discussion, I just want it to end in a better and more civil way."

On Wednesday, Beck warned again of an impending exposé on Wallis and his "spread the wealth social justice nonsense," this time on his TV show. He called Wallis a Marxist and a "Jeremiah Wright on sedatives."

"You can hide behind all the sweet words now. But after thirty years America will know," said Beck.

Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council (FRC), also took aim at Wallis. Perkins questioned whether Wallis was a "wolf in shepherd's clothing."

"[Wallis] has been the Left's main proponent of merging the biblical idea of justice with the liberal agenda to transform America into a place where the government orchestrates all facets of the economy," Perkins said. "To those who wish to cloak political liberalism in the guise of biblical language, beware. Being a wolf in sheep's clothing is something Scripture strongly condemns."

Sojourners Chief Operating Officer Chuck Gutenson critiqued Perkins's response, including his use of "a cartoon of a drooling, fang-toothed caricature."

"It really would be cool if we could have a debate about ideas that [doesn't] involve trying to score cheap rhetorical points by moving to name calling and personal attacks," he said.

What is Social Justice?

Glenn Beck's original comments on social justice continued to reverberate among Christian advocacy groups. As Al Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, remarked, the controversy's public nature resulted in "far more heat than light."

But as activists respond to the continuing controversy, they are also answering the question, What is social justice?

Mohler called comments like Beck's "nonsense." While he acknowledged that some have used the term "social justice" for political purposes or to distract from the gospel, Mohler said it is important to work for justice.

"The Gospel is not a message of social salvation, but it does have social implications," said Mohler. "Justice is our concern because it is God's concern."

Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, told the Associated Baptist Press that if Beck were right, Christians would need to leave Southern Baptist churches. The Baptist Faith and Message statement calls Christians to make Christ supreme in both society and their individual lives.

Like Mohler, Land said there will be disagreements over the best ways to achieve social justice, but there should not be debate over social justice as a goal.

For Tony Perkins of the FRC, social justice is life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. "We support true social justice," said Perkins, "a transcendent understanding that all human life is sacred, that our liberty is granted by God, and that happiness is ours to pursue."

Wallis, whose views of social justice have been targeted by both the FRC and Glenn Beck, said, "Biblical justice also involves changing structures, institutions, systems, and policies; as well as changing hearts to be more generous."

David Gushee of the New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good wrote a column in the Huffington Post on the meaning of social justice. After listing verse after verse on justice and citing scholarship on the topic, Gushee gave this summary:

Social injustice consists of misuses of power to create distortions of human community in which greed, domination, violence, and exclusion come to dominate human life. Social justice consists of human acts to resist social injustice by repairing such distortions of human community. We work today for social justice when we seek to create religious and political communities characterized by more economic justice, less domination, less violence, and more inclusive community.

The presence of a lengthy discussion of the meaning of social justice in the press, along with public comments by other religious and political leaders, may help assuage the concerns of Mark Reiff of Evangelicals for Social Action, who found the Beck episode doubly-troubling.

"I'm not sure which is worse—the horribly skewed understanding of social justice that Beck is perpetrating or the possibility that we as a body have done such a poor job teaching what faith in Christ really means that we find ourselves seriously threatened by a radio host's rants," said Reiff.

Nearing the End of the Health Care Debate

Advocacy groups are making final pleas to members to lobby Congress. Many groups sent a list of members on the fence, particularly the names of pro-life Democrats.

Focus on the Family Action and the American Family Association (AFA) worked together on a webcast that featured Senator David Vitter (R-La.) and Representatives Mike Pence (R-Ind.), Tom Price (R-Ga.), and Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.).

In addition to lobbying, Focus Action and the AFA called for prayer.

"We understand that there are powerful spiritual forces at work here," said Bryan Fischer of the AFA.

Last minute appeals were also made by Concerned Women for America, ERLC, Traditional Values Coalition, American Center for Law and Justice, ERLC, and Focus Action.

The one new voice in the debate was Al Mohler, who made his first statement on the legislation.

"I have refrained from extended comment on the health care reform bills—not because I do not have multiple concerns about the bills, but because I recognize that committed Christians can and will disagree over the political and policy issues involved. The trip-wire for me is the issue of human life. The current bill spells disaster when it comes to abortion. I cannot remain silent in this crucial moment where the sanctity of human life is at stake," said Mohler.

Tom Minnery and Stewart Shepard of Focus Action closed their weekly webcast with the question many of us have been asking ourselves:

"Are you getting tired of talking about health care?" asked Minnery.

"Not yet. Not till it's gone," answered Shepard.

It appears that the bill will soon be gone, whether passed or defeated.

Odds and Ends

* This weekend, the National Association of Evangelicals, Sojourners, and other faith organizations will participate in a march in Washington, DC, to advocate for immigration reform. The NAE said, "This is a critical moment in the struggle for immigration reform this year." Sojourners has been preparing for the march by posting stories of immigrants on its God's Politics blog.

* Ken Blackwell, a senior fellow at the FRC, wrote an op-ed critiquing President Obama's recent foreign policy decisions, which Blackwell sees as snubbing historical allies and embracing Islamic groups and dictators. "It is chilling to think that he is stiff-arming all our old allies and seeking relationships instead with Third World rulers who are unelected and unelectable," said Blackwell.



Related Elsewhere:

Earlier Political Advocacy Trackers are available on our site. Christianity Today also follows political developments on the politics blog.

January/February
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